Perhaps best known for his character Fericito, the Venezuelan comedian who punctuates his jokes with a drum roll and the tagline "I'm just keeeding," Fred Armisen has been a mainstay on the cast of "Saturday Night Live" since Will Ferrell's departure in 2002. Besides appearing as Ferecito, Armisen has made memorable appearances as an oft-silent prince on "The Prince Show" and as Steve Jobs introducing the iPod Pequeño on "Weekend Update." Armisen's comedic career began almost accidentally in 1998 with his "Guide to Music and South by Southwest," a short film in which he played various handicapped characters interviewing indie-rock insiders at the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Armisen, who was then the drummer for the Chicago-based industrial funk band Trenchmouth, shot the video as a gag. But thanks in part to an article in the Chicago Reader, the movie became a cult hit and led to an invitation to do similar work for HBO. From there it was a few short steps to an audition for "SNL" (not to mention his work as Chip Douglas on Comedy Central's "Crank Yankers").
Armisen traces the whole trajectory in this interview (1:00:03, MP3) with Jesse Thorn on "The Sound of Young America." (For more on Thorn, see this earlier post.) The soft-spoken and relentlessly positive Armisen keeps an attitude of grateful humility throughout. "It was like being asked to be the pope or the president," he says of getting an audition for "SNL." "It just seemed so ridiculously huge that, you know, you just think, 'I'll do my audition, but, man, this is really insane to even be in this room.'" Thankfully, the cheeriness is interrupted by cuts from two of Armisen's bits: Fred the self-defense instructor (the first character he performed live) and Fred the parish priest/stand-up comic. Both are hilarious.
In the first half of the show, Thorn talks to Brent Hoff, the editor of McSweeney's new DVD magazine, Wholphin, and plays sketches from players who will be performing in the SF Sketchfest. Listen for Kasper Hauser's spoof game show, "Phone Call to the 14th Century."
-- Ira Boudway